Manchester United return to Premier League action on Saturday when they host Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford. During the reverse fixture in September, Wayne Rooney scored his second successive hat-trick while Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) bagged a brace during United's 5-0 defeat of the Trotters at the Reebok. The Reds have not faced the Lancashire club in any other competition this season.
Form Guide: While level on points with Tottenham Hotspur, the Reds hold the goal differential advantage and as a result, they are 2nd in the table. Both clubs are three points shy of leaders Manchester City. United have lost successive matches in league but ended their losing streak during the past weekend with a 3-2 defeat of City in a FA Cup tie. Prior to those league losses, United had gone 9 matches unbeaten in league.
Team News: The congestion of the holiday fixture list came at a time when United were reeling injury wise. However, the trend as of late has been mostly positive as some players have recovered and others near a return. In defense, captain Nemanja Vidic continues to be out with his season-ending injury and Fabio is unlikely to be unavailable too. Rio Ferdinand may be a fitness concern as well after tweeting on Thursday that he had some sort of stomach ailment. In midfield, Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher continue to be out and it appears that Darron Gibson is on the verge of a move to Everton. In attack, both Ashley Young and Michael Owen are still recovering from injury. We will provide a team news report after manager Sir Alex Ferguson's weekly press conference on Friday morning.
Form Guide: Bolton is in a fight to avoid relegation as they currently sit in the relegation zone at 18th in the table. The Trotters come into the match unbeaten in their last three matches in all competitions -- including a 2-1 away victory over Everton in their last league match. The past weekend saw Bolton earn a 2-2 draw versus League Two side Macclesfield Town in FA Cup action. As a result, a replay has been forced for the upcoming midweek.
Team News: No. 1 Jussi Jaaskelainen has a thigh injury and it is uncertain if he will be recovered in time for Saturday's match. Sean Davis and Marcos Alonso have knocks on their knee and ankle, respectively, and it's uncertain if either is available. Tyrone Mears, Lee Chung-yong, and Stuart Holden all continue to be out with long-term injuries.
United: Anders Lindegaard appears to be getting a run in an opportunity to be United's No. 1. However, David de Gea is certainly possible to start still. In defense, the center-back duo is likely to be Ferdinand and Chris Smalling, but Jonny Evans or Phil Jones are possible if Ferdinand's illness prevents him from starting. Patrice Evra is expected at left-back while Jones, Smalling, or Rafael are possible at right-back. In central-midfield, Michael Carrick is anticipated and either Ryan Giggs, Anderson, or Jones are possible to start alongside him. Out wide, either Antonio Valencia or Nani are the likely choices on the right while either Nani or Park Ji-sung are the probable candidates on the left. Up front, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are the expected partnership but Chicharito or Dimitar Berbatov could feature as well.
Bolton: If Jaaskelainen is unable to feature, expect Adam Bogdan to deputise. At the time of this publishing, Gary Cahill is still with Bolton and if he is available to start on Saturday, Zat Knight is probable to start alongside him at center-back. If Cahill leaves for Chelsea FC, then David Wheater could start. At right-back, the choice is between Gretar Rafn Steinsson or Dedryck Boyata and at left-back, the choice is between Samuel Ricketts or Paul Robinson. In central-midfield, Nigel Reo-Coker and Fabrice Muamba are the likely duo -- if a third player is chosen, Mark Davies could feature here as well. The wide right attacker could be either Davies or Chris Eagles while the wide left attacker is likely to be Martin Petrov. David Ngog is probable to start up front and if a second striker is chosen, expect to see Ivan Klasnic.
* Bolton's physicality and direct play: The last time these two sides clashed, Bolton played very physical and direct -- evidence of their physicality was Bolton's 15 fouls to United's 1. Quite often, Bolton bypassed their midfield and simply hoofed the ball forward for then starting center-forward Kevin Davies. Missing Vidic for a match like this is a loss but the likes of Ferdinand, Smalling, Evans, and/or Jones should be capable of dealing with Bolton's current starting center-forward Ngog. Jones does need though to show improvement in aerial duels when deployed as a center-back. Despite playing reasonably well last time against Bolton in goal, it seems probable at the moment for de Gea to be dropped again in favor of Lindegaard. Despite himself flapping at a few crosses in recent matches, the Dane is generally thought to have better command in the box in comparison to the young Spaniard.
While Davies or Eagles will look to come inside on the right side of attack, Bolton will seek to play with width on the left through Petrov. The Bulgarian averages 2.1 successful crosses per game -- good for 6th best in the Premier League -- and Bolton will look to their winger as their main creative force in attack. Whoever United's right-back is on Saturday, he will need to be careful not to get caught out when possession is lost.
* Defending against Bolton on set-pieces: Perhaps this is in relation to the previous tactical key: to keep it simple, United must be wary of Petrov taking set-pieces and allowing the likes of Ngog, Cahill, and possibly Davies from getting on the end of them. Tactically, a similar performance to United's 1 foul committed last match would be ideal as it would limit the set-piece opportunities for Bolton. It appears that Rafael -- who has barely featured this season due to injury and form -- would unlikely start this match because of his propensity to foul the opposition. United will have to limit their fouls, especially in their own half.
* Win the battle in the center of the park: One big reason why Bolton bypassed the midfield in the reverse fixture was because United's central-midfielders outplayed their counterparts. An in-form Ando along with Carrick dictated the match. This prevented Bolton's central-midfielders from swinging the ball out wide for their wide attackers and it also prevented them from supplying the support striker -- the player that often links the midfield and attack. Thus, Bolton continually punted the ball forward and they became very predictable. United dealt with the aerial bombardment reasonably well and the result of all of this was a 5-0 victory. A similar pattern could evolve on Saturday if United are able to win the battle in the center of the park.
KO: Sunday 3:00pm GMT, 10:00am EST | Old Trafford
Referee: Peter Walton
Odds: Manchester United 1/6, Draw 6/1, Bolton 14/1
TBB Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Bolton